I noticed an ambiguity between two articles in your January/February issue: “A Feeling for the Past,” by Ingfei Chen, and “Trying to Forget,” by Ingrid Wickelgren. The first article states that “older adults favored the happy images: half of the images the elders correctly recalled were positive and slightly more than a quarter were negative .... older adults appear to actively manage their emotions by paying less attention to negative things.” The second article states that “elderly adults had more trouble than those aged 18 to 25 keeping an experience out of consciousness when reminded of it .... [and] may have particular problems recovering from unpleasantness in life.”

These statements seem to contradict. Can you help me out here?
Heather Dial
Houston, Tex.

THE EDITORS REPLY: The answer is in the timing. The process of deciding what to commit to memory in the first place is different than blocking a memory from reaching consciousness after it has been stored. Older adults are better at preventing negative experiences from being committed to memory. But if an elderly person has stored a negative memory, he or she is more likely to have trouble—compared with the average young adult—preventing it from popping up to bother him or her later. The latter requires an inhibitory brain mechanism that declines with age. The former is more of an ability to shift attention in the current moment, and it is very likely to require a different part of the brain.

The implication of “Wired for Weird,” by Richard Wiseman, was that those who believe in paranormal activity, God or spiritual influence are weird. The article also explained that similar phenomena could be demonstrated in a laboratory.

What that basically amounts to, for me, is that because scientists can replicate similar phenomena, the phenomena therefore only exist in reflection of the current scientific ability, tools and knowledge we have developed to date. Any supposition that “extra-phenomena” of a similar nature may exist beyond the scope of these abilities, tools and knowledge is to be ridiculed. This, to me, is an attitude that flies in the face of scientific discovery.

I am grateful for all the efforts of the great scientific minds throughout history that have persevered beyond the techniques of their day to discover an ever widening reality and help provide for our way of life. I hope that rather than ridiculing that which we currently cannot prove, we continue to—let me use the word—“believe” there may be more to what we know than we ever dreamed of.
Roy Henry
Oak Park, Ill.

RegardingThe Secret Inner Life of Bees,” by Jason Castro, it seems to me the typical argument against animal emotions is that we cannot prove their actions are not evolved response systems.

Using that logic, we have never actually proved that humans have emotions. I know I have them—but how do I know that everyone else does not simply have evolved response systems?

That said, perhaps this skepticism is a correct response—we should not make assumptions that two distantly related organisms behave the same way.

I do hope we all will try to be good to all animals, in any case. Give them the benefit of the doubt—that they could, and probably do, have emotions. Even bugs.
“David N’Gog”
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Infant Kandinskys,” by Maria Konnikova [Head Lines], describes how babies’ senses are intermingled. This synesthesia looks to me like another example of naive brains lacking the means to differentiate data because they have not yet learned the scenarios and concepts most relevant to their lives.

At six months old infants can recognize faces of different monkeys, as well as those of different humans, and recognize phonetic differences in foreign languages. By 12 months old children can no longer tell monkey faces apart, and they can only recognize phonetic differences in their native language. In addition, a large proportion of children start with absolute pitch and lose it. Only those who practice music or speak tonal languages retain pitch as part of their concept formation.

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I was interested to read “The Google Effect,” by Anne Casselman [Head Lines], which suggests that overreliance on search engines may affect our brain’s ability to memorize information. Although it is indeed true that “memory is much greater than memorization,” memorizing remains a critical ability and one to actively promote, particularly as the brain ages. There are similar findings on the effects of GPS systems on spatial memory. Decreasing cognitive exercise through technology seems a risky business, especially given what we know about neurodevelopment in adults. Most studies seem to support the old adage: use it, or you might lose it.
Richard Howlin
Chelsea, Mich.

I must respectfully disagree with Casselman’s conclusions. It is not a “new” phenomenon caused by Google “that Internet users have learned to remember how to find a fact rather than the fact itself.” I am 60 and my husband 78. We were taught you don’t have to know everything, just to “know where to find the information.” We were taught to use the library, the dictionary, and so forth. Sadly, these skills are being lost to Wikipedia, spell-check, blogs and many questionable sources of information.
Annette Reffalt
Perkinston, Miss.

I question the premise of the Ask the Brains query “Is there a difference between the brain of an atheist and the brain of a religious person?” answered by Andrew Newberg. “Atheist” is a word invented by theists who see the world in religious terms. I bet the mental processes of religious fundamentalists and doctrinaire Communists and any Scientologists all resemble one another far more than they do either the average Episcopalian or the average empiricist (the word that better describes many so-called atheists).

By the same token, that Episcopalian and that empiricist probably resemble each other more at the process level than either does his putative but more fanatical brethren.
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ERRATA In “Unlocking the Lucid Dream,” by Ursula Voss [November/December 2011], the description of the origins of the ocular signaling method was oversimplified because of an editing error. The question of whether Stephen LaBerge or Keith Hearne initially introduced the technique is unresolved. The answer by Jeannine Stamatakis to “How do our thoughts influence our physical sensations?” [Ask the Brains, January/February 2012] misstated that
a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis typically affords sufferers a one-in-500 chance of survival. The survival rates of ankylosing spondylitis vary widely, depending on the patient’s overall health.